Tonight and tomorrow, we celebrate a most difficult and paradoxical holiday, Tisha B’Av. Even though we pushed off the fast a day because it fell on Shabbat this year, it is no less significant to us. In fact, we started the fast when it was still Shabbat. However, as I read in Ami magazine, it *is* a holiday to be celebrated, because if we mourn deeply enough, instead of just feeling sadness and regret, it might galvanize us to take action, to really pray deeply for the rebuilding, and to do whatever we could do to bring about a redemption, turning this day of mourning into one of rejoicing.
This night, we read the Megillah Eicha, which, with its first word, asks two questions: “Ay-cha: how could this be? How could all these terrible things have happened — and keep happening?” The second question is one Hashem asks Adam HaRishon in the Garden of Eden just after he eats the forbidden fruit: “A-ye-ka: where are you?” Maybe God really was asking him also, “how could you?,” but did God really not know where he was? No. God just wanted to have Adam think about both questions — how could he have done it, and where was he — how far had he pushed himself from God and his own potential just by one seemingly small act?
I had to hear the megillah six thousand miles from where the tragedy of Tisha B’Av took place, and it made me ask myself the question “where are you?” But this time I thought that this is the one holiday where it is actually better not to be there, close to home. Why? Because it is that much more potent to think about what the destruction of the Temple has done to us when I am experiencing it first hand. I have been in Israel, even at the Kotel itself on Tisha B’Av. It is an amazing, powerful experience, but it is akin to sitting shiva with thousands of others — it is a comfort. Being so far away and knowing that if not for the Destruction, I wouldn’t have to leave my home in order to be with the rest of my family, the Jews would not be scattered but united, and possibly we would have the peace and light we have been searching for in the darkness of these thousands of years.
So I ask myself “where are you?” physically, but I also start to ask myself where I am spiritually — it is almost half a month till the start of Elul, the beginning of the true teshuva period, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that this holiday asking where we are, and what we are doing to bring about redemption, comes on the heels of the time for serious introspection, when we think about what we want for ourselves and the wider world in the coming year.
I want to share some words that are not my own, but my son’s, when he was thirteen years old. This day is also the yarzheit of his great-grandmother, a woman whose joy was just seeing her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Although she is technically my husband’s grandmother, I am claiming her too because she was wonderful to me and holds a place in my heart still. I hope my mother-in-law has found some comfort in her legacy of family. On the Tisha B’Av that was her levaya, I spoke, but the majority of my words, the most powerful ones, were not mine. My son asked me to say them for him, and I want to share them here. (I am paraphrasing, but I think this is close to what he wrote.)
He said that it was hard for him to lose his great-grandmother, but he felt that it was better to have loved and lost, because in this case, he got to know and love a wonderful, loving person. On this day, we mourn a Temple we haven’t seen for thousands of years. We cry and feel sad, but maybe we don’t feel sad enough. We can’t hurt like his loss hurt, because we never had the Temple in our lifetimes — we mourn, but we don’t even know what we are missing. Maybe, if we knew, we would be sadder and pray harder for its return.
In a sense, we are all far from home. Our People is scattered, divided, and we are at war all the time, with each other and with the world. Maybe if we took a minute to think about what we were missing, we wouldn’t need three weeks to prepare for it, to *make* ourselves feel sad, because we would really feel its loss and know that one day a year isn’t nearly enough time to mourn for what we never even had a chance to know.
My wish is that this time next year, we will be celebrating, together, as a nation in our country.